Monday, February 2, 2009

A modest proposal

I had a conversation with a prosecutor a couple of weeks ago regarding the way first-time DWI's are handled in Texas.  For those of you who don't know, the Harris County District Attorney's Office has a longstanding policy of not reducing DWI's.  However, head south down the Gulf Freeway and Galveston County prosecutors are more than happy to reduce a DWI if you can give them a good reason.

For most citizens charged with driving while intoxicated, that case will be the only time they ever set foot in the criminal courthouse.  The humiliation of being arrested, the inconvenience of having to go to court and the expense of hiring an attorney and paying fines is more than enough to dissuade most rational people from getting behind the wheel after drinking too much. 

So why do we insist on tarring them for life with a criminal conviction? The prosecutor and I agreed that the law was ridiculous and needed to be changed.  His solution was to allow a citizen charged with his first DWI to receive deferred adjudication for that offense but, should he pick up another DWI charge, the new case would be prosecuted as a second DWI.

I like the carrot-and-stick philosophy behind his idea because I think it takes into account the fact that we have all (most of us, at least) gotten behind the wheel of a car when we shouldn't have -- but that most of us didn't get caught.


Mark Bennett said...

Other than nondisclosure, there's very little practical difference between a misdemeanor conviction and a deferred. For your proposal to work, nondisclosure would have to be available for a DWI

Paul B. Kennedy said...

The idea is that nondisclosure would be available on a DWI as a carrot. The stick would be that the deferred would count as a conviction for enhancement purposes if you picked up another DWI down the road. We already take much the same approach with alcohol offenses for juveniles.

Thanks for the input.

aglu said...

"The prosecutor and I agreed that the law was ridiculous and needed to be changed."
The courageous statement. If it was so simply.

Anonymous said...

This law was actually proposed in past session by prosecutors and was attacked by criminal defense attorneys who objected that the dfaj could be used to enhance a subsequent DWI. Looks like verything old is new again.